Well it’s been a very fun, LOUD, busy week for us here! China has a “Golden Week” in October set aside for celebrating the Nation (Go China! – See photo of Sean for appropriate enthusiasm). This means we got a week off which was spent doing a little sight-seeing and fighting through waves of Chinese tourists also enjoying their national holiday.
Saturday-Sunday: Chengdu – You say Tibetan, I say Irish.
We spent a couple of days in Chengdu wandering around and getting the general feel for the place, unlike last time we managed to navigate it slightly better and ended up wandering around a HUGE bookshop.
We actually went to Chengdu to go to a tattoo convention; Sean fancied a Chinese dragon and I was on the lookout for a watercolour tattooist. I couldn’t find any watercolour tattooists but Sean did find someone who could do a dragon design… for a mere 95 of your British pounds PER HOUR. So we didn’t get tattoos, I couldn’t even find anywhere to get my nose re-pierced. I guess this is because tattoos and piercings are still fairly underground here, it’s unusual for anyone over 25 to have a tattoo although the illusion of tattooed people as gangsters and criminals is dissolving somewhat. Never mind, at least we got to see pretty bikes.
Thankfully though, I did finally get to visit the Tibetan district which reminded me a lot of Gangtok (a mountainous place I visited in North India), very gaudy gold and colourful tapestry everywhere! I even got a nice floaty skirt to combat what was 30 degree heat!
But most importantly, Tibetan food seems to have a distinctly Irish taste; it was a pretty awesome surprise to find out that we could order mince pie, deep fried mash potato balls (surprisingly similar to champ, if you deep fried it in pastry) and some spicy meat dishes with noodles.
I thought Sean might melt into a puddle and the overzealous waiter might actually have to funnel him into a bucket; I believe the over-zealousness may have stemmed from the fact Sean was using his inhalator a lot and probably resembled some sort of dragon spirit. The only thing on the table that seemed to put most of us off (and that’s saying something since we eat cow spine these days) was the “tea” they served with dinner; I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about it yet but what I will say is: avoid goat butter/ milk.
Anyhow, delicious meal followed by delicious gin back at the hostel bar! Which was unexpectedly inclusive, just look at these FLEGS:
The following day we decided that we’d make the most of the Tibetan district whilst we were there and had another Tibetan lunch before retiring to the People’s Park (those of you who are keeping up with the ol’ blog will remember this park as the one we spent an hour looking for last time) and sat in the lovely weather sipping speciality tea. For anyone that ever finds themselves in a teahouse I highly recommend the lemon tea; it’s dehydrated lemon, chilli and sugar crystals mixed with hot water – delicious. Following that peaceful afternoon we traipsed back up home to Xindu for a restful evening.
Monday: Xindu – A Run-In with the Po-Po (that means Police, Mam).
On Monday a policeman dragged us away. Many would argue that it’s about time. Alas, I am not getting my comeuppance just yet. Sean and I met Ming at a BBQ place a couple of weeks ago – being the only lao wài’s (老外) in the vicinity he struck up conversation with us. Ming’s English is very good despite the fact the police here don’t seem to be required to know it; he’s a police officer in training, following in the footsteps of his father. He invited us to dinner at his house with his mother and father but when we turned up we were actually brought to the countryside restaurant that his mother manages and had a HUGE meal.
It was delicious and despite the limited conversation Sean and I could have with his parents (language barrier) I was able to act out or use my translator on my phone to get across what I wanted to say and we actually shared a lot of laughs despite the lack of words.
It was a really lovely evening, one of those evenings that you’ll remember when you’re 40 and sort of reassure yourself that you’ve done some cool stuff in your life. Like having dinner with a policeman you met one time when you were attempting to attain real meat at a street BBQ place whilst working as a newbie teacher in China. Plus, I mean just look at the English translations in these menus! I was in stitches.
Tuesday-Thursday: Bifengxia – “Bearly” making it up Panda Mountain. (I regret no pun).
Tuesday was a big day for us! Our first solo trip! I had it organised down to the last detail, I had all my Chinese characters written in my little book, all my bus times too, and even how to say “this is delicious” so that I could sweeten up any waiter or waitress I might need directions from after the meal. Of course none of this was actually useful in the end but the whole trip did go exactly to plan more or less!
So we got up early in Xindu, got the bus down to Chengdu, got the taxi to Xinannmen Bus Station (which is apparently pinyin for New South Gate Station), I managed to get us two bus tickets to Ya’an. We got off at Ya’an and I managed to wave my translator app under the right persons face because he took us to the
crazy minivan driver who would drive us up the deathtrap mountain to Bifeng Park which houses pandas, hanging coffins and waterfalls. For a mere 50 kwai (£5.50 ish- although I hear that the pounds worth even less than a canoe in the Sahara desert now so maybe it’s slightly more… like 6% more and a mini investigation?), you can take your life in your hands and careen up a steep sided cliff in a beaten up old minivan whilst the over excited driver plays “throw satsumas at the lao wài’s”. No but really, the driver was lovely and did feed me oranges whilst he nearly killed us all. All’s well that ends well.
Reaching the top we bumped into a lady who wanted 300 kwai a night to stay in her little hotel. I told her 350 for two nights and she nearly jumped for joy – pretty sure I got rick rolled but the room was lovely (queen sized bed!) despite the cockerel that seemed to live right below our window and insisted on talking to us throughout the night. That night we managed to buy our tickets to the park (almost at half price and I have no idea how! We did forego a helicopter ride but I’m not sure how that figures into the costings) and we went back to the room to attempt to sleep despite the cockerel.
The next day we were up at the crack of dawn to race to the panda place and ogle the little beauties. Luckily, the night before Sean and I had prepared for our new field site. As anthropologists, we must always be ready to blend. Hence my panda coat and our matching panda caps.
So as we entered our new enclosure we quickly realised that despite our new disguises we weren’t going to be allowed to get very close to the black and white fluff balls. Not used to not being the sole benefactor of the intrigued and slightly scared gaze of the Chinese people for once, we tried to force our way in between the masses of tourists to catch a peek at the bears. And they were as adorable as we’d hoped, if slightly too far away for my liking. We didn’t get to enjoy the sightseeing all that much since the crowds were overwhelming but it gave us a taste for what we’ll see at the panda bases closer to home and hopefully on a slightly less busy occasion. Sports day is coming up so it might be the perfect time to go to the base, mid-week during school semester.
After the pandas we went for lunch, and found a man walking around with a dog strapped to him in a baby holder thing; it’s not entirely relevant to the story, just bemusing:
So after noodles and the peculiar man with the dog-child, we hiked the park. Or, at least, most of the park. We walked around the Bifeng Temple, lit incense and crossed a rickety bridge on to the hiking trail which brought us to the tallest sightseeing elevator in the world. We decided to save the elevator for the way back and did the rest of the trail first. We saw waterfalls and sheer cliff faces that were supposedly used by the monks of the temple to test their Kung Fu abilities; those who passed this mountainside test qualified as monks, those who didn’t died. I thought A levels were bad.
We passed some pretty waterfalls and leafy scenery before coming to one of the sites I’d been dying to see: the Hanging Coffins. They’re exactly what they sound like, coffins that hang from the side of a mountain; the coffins themselves are usually carved from one piece of wood and lie on beams protruding out from the side of the mountain. These coffins are found in a few countries but in China they are said to have been left by the Ba (sometimes referred to as Bo) people; there is little written evidence of this ancient peoples existence however, the burial practices are still, obviously, witness-able today. Some of the remains found in these coffins in Sichuan are 2000 years old, and are located very high off the ground. There are supposedly three hypotheses for how the hell they got these coffins and corpses up to that height; through climbing to the top and lowering everything down by pulley system, or by starting from the bottom and pulling everything up by block and tackle or by digging tunnels and upwards and then destroying them after to stop grave robbing. Personally I find the first hypothesis more believable; I mean if they dug tunnels and collapsed them, presuming they were able to collapse them, wouldn’t there be evidence of this? There’s surprisingly little research to read about this interesting phenomenon. If anyone finds anything worth reading, give me a shout – they’re pretty incredible to look at.
There are a few theories about why the coffins were hung from the mountains. First that the living relatives would remember to look upon their ancestors with reverence and that in return they would be protected or blessed (similar to Japanese Ancestor Worship). Second, that the coffins resembled boats to take the dead to their afterlife… think River Styx. Thirdly, due to the nature based code of life that the Ba people lived by, this was their way of returning their dead to nature or fourthly, that hanging their coffins higher up brought them closer to paradise and protected them from evil.
After that we decided to try and loop ALL the way back around to the beginning where the sight seeing elevator was located but after walking up steps for another 15 minutes, Sean and I looked up at the same time and saw that there was a mountain to climb by stairs in order to loop all the way round, and suddenly going the same way back seemed like a better plan. At least we got to see the coffins again. Plus, on the way back we noticed little twigs pushed in creases between the rocks face. Where there was a gap between two layers of rock little twigs were stood in it. We eventually found a sign that said that people place the twigs there to pray for the health and strong legs of their relatives. So I stuck one in there for you Dan, you know for your knee, but it snapped so make of that what you will.
So, there we were, on the cusp of riding the world’s tallest sight setting elevator.
We were so excited we didn’t even try to correct the staff on the word “elevator”. If they want to use
incorrect American English then so be it, so long as we get to ride the LIFT back up, see the sights and then alight at the tourist centre at the top for some well-earned lemon tea. So we waited in line. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, we made it to the front, giddy with anticipation. Eventually, we get the wave through and lo and behold we’re moving towards the elevator. We come to the doors and I remember thinking “oh how quaint, it looks like a normal elevator, they even have the call button and silver doors and it looks so small from the outside like that Haunted Elevator at Disney World.” We get in with around 10 other people and the door closes. And we’re in a lift. With brown wooden walls. And a little screen telling you how many floors you’re going up at a time… which is good because you can’t actually see out of the tallest sight-seeing elevator in the world. There is no sight, to see. Because it’s just a lift. On the side of a mountain. DISAPPOINTMENT. Ah well, the lemon cha at the top was good.
The next day went as smoothly as the trip to Bifengxia, we managed to get an early bus back down the mountain which didn’t take the sight-seeing route so instead of an hour, it took us around 20 minutes and didn’t feel like imminent death was upon us (we didn’t know this was an option on the exciting trip up the mountain)! Then we hopped onto the bus back to Chengdu. Since everything went so well we arrived in Chengdu in time for lunch and I think you can guess which district we ended up in. I’ll give you a clue, it might as well be called Little Ireland rather than the Tibetan District. So after the third Tibetan meal of the week we made it back in time to see a lady about a job. She bought us tea (it was flower infused and delicious) and dinner (beef chunk hot pot that was infused with ginger and garlic – yum!).
All in all, a pretty great week. Ruined by the fact having a week off here means you have to do make up days, so this is a 7 day working week ahead. WOO!
That’s you all up to speed! Until the next panda outing 😀